Turnips 101: Making the Case for this Overlooked Superfood

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Turnips have been a staple in European cuisines for centuries, but they haven’t yet gained quite the same popularity in the US. With the exception of southern soul food, turnips aren’t found on American tables nearly as often as other root vegetables like carrots or potatoes. But times are changing as we learn more about the prolific health benefits of turnips and other cruciferous vegetables. With its high vitamin C and fiber content and its anti-inflammatory properties, not to mention its versatile applications in cooking, turnips could really be the next superfood! So let’s take a tip from our European friends and make room at the table for turnips this fall—our bodies will thank us!  

Identification

Common turnips are globes, usually 2 to 4 inches in diameter, with an elongated white root end and a deep purple top where the leaves attach. Turnips are sold with and without leaves.

Grocers usually stock turnips with other root vegetables such as carrots, rutabagas, and beets.

Taste

The size of a turnip determines its flavor. The general taste is earthy and sweet with a dash of pepper. The larger the bulb, the more intense the pepper zing will be, especially when eaten raw. Cooking draws out the natural sugars in the vegetable, making the flavor more complex and sweet.

Availability

Turnips are readily available, especially during peak season, in most grocery stores.

Season

Prime season for turnips is October through March in the US and May through November in Europe.

Selection

The size of the turnip affects its flavor. Smaller turnips have a delicate flavor, while larger turnips have an intense and peppery flavor. If the greens are attached, you can use the leaf size to judge flavor—the smaller the leaf, the milder the flavor will be.

Once you’ve determined the appropriate size for your cooking needs, seek out bulbs that are heavy for their size.

Avoid turnips with blemishes or soft spots, and greens that are yellowed or pockmarked, as this is a sign they are overripe.

Organic Benefits

When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “Dirty Dozen” and the 15 least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen“. These lists help identify the produce that is most—and least—dramatically affected by pesticides.

Turnips are not specifically highlighted on any list so the jury is still out on these. Some people suggest it depends on what part of the turnip you plan to eat. The consensus is, if you are only consuming the root, it is fine to choose conventionally grown turnips; and conversely, if you plan to use the leaves, then opt for organic because leafy greens tend to attract and hold onto pesticides. Keep in mind, this is largely speculative and not well researched.

Environmental Working Group and Yoffie Life stress that consuming conventionally grown vegetables and fruits when the organic version is unavailable or financially impossible is far better than eating none at all.

Storage

Unwashed turnips will stay fresh in a plastic bag in your crisper for up to one week.

If storing turnip greens, wash them thoroughly, drain well, and wrap loosely in a paper towel. Refrigerate them in a plastic bag for up to three days.

Preparation

Wash the root thoroughly under cool running water and if necessary, remove any dirt and residue with a vegetable brush. Then peel the exterior with a paring knife or vegetable peeler, and slice or chop as desired. Turnips can be eaten raw or cooked.

To use turnip greens, wash and chop them to enjoy as a side dish or add to soups and stir-fries.

Nutrition Summary

Vitamin C

This immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure and heart disease risk.

Manganese

The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.

Potassium

Phosphorus provides structural support to DNA and RNA, works with calcium in the formation of tooth enamel and bone, helps to filter wastes out of the kidneys, and regulates energy. Phosphorus also plays an integral role in cardiovascular health and repairing cells and tissues throughout the body.

Copper

A mineral that plays a role in producing collagen and keeping the immune system in proper working order, copper is an essential nutrient needed by the body in small amounts. Copper may also fight against free radicals, helping to delay the aging process. Energy production is also one of the many benefits of this important mineral.

B6 (Pyridoxine)

Amino acids and lipids are the main nutrients metabolized by vitamin B6, helping to promote proper energy levels throughout the body. It is also an important aspect of the formation of hemoglobin and neurotransmitters, protecting both the cardiovascular system and brain.

Health Benefits & Medical Claims

Turnips are highly regarded for the anti-inflammatory properties derived from their high levels of vitamin K and omega-3 fatty acids. This is especially important for those suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. Additionally, cruciferous vegetables in general are thought to improve cardiovascular health. This may also be in part due to their anti-inflammatory properties, though further research is needed to support this.

Another reason to choose turnips is their rich vitamin c content. With about 42 percent of your daily value of vitamin C in a single serving, turnips are a great choice for skin, bone, and immune health.

Keep in mind, if you are prone to hypothyroidism, avoid eating excessive amounts of turnips. Turnips come from the cruciferous family of vegetables, along with cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. These vegetables can impede the body’s ability to process iodine, resulting in hypothyroidism. There’s no need to eliminate turnips from your diet entirely, however. In moderation, they are still a healthy addition to your diet.

Little Known Facts

1. If you find a vegetable labeled as a yellow or wax turnip, it’s actually a rutabaga. Turnips and rutabagas are from the same cruciferous family as cabbage and cauliflower.

2. The wild turnip is one of civilization’s oldest vegetables, and can be traced back to 300 BC in ancient Rome and Greece.

3. Turnips can be processed into flour, and are often harvested as a source of livestock feed.

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Yoffie Life disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.